Tradespeople in Australia’s construction industry are being encouraged to ditch old-school ‘she’ll be right’ attitudes and to seek professional help where they experience stiffness or pain.

In the lead-up to Tradies National Health Month in August, The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) is encouraging tradespeople to address issues before they turn into serious injury.

APA National President Phil Calvert says with the long hours and physical labour associated with their work, tradespeople need to give themselves the best chance to remain in good condition.

“The intensity and repetitive nature of trade work means that at some point in their career, a tradie is likely to be injured,” Calvert said.

“What we’re encouraging them to do is just take stock of their health regularly and notice if they have any stiffness or pain in their body. This is often an indicator of a musculoskeletal problem which can be addressed relatively simply if it is nipped in the bud.”

“Tradies rely on their bodies for their work. Small niggles can turn into more serious chronic conditions if left unchecked, and that means lost time and income for many tradies.”

The latest calls come as the APA prepares for Tradies National Health Month – an annual awareness campaign which highlights how tradespeople can improve their health and prevent injury.

Data from Safe Work Australia suggests that in 2017/18, workers in physical types of roles such as labourers, technicians and trads workers and machinery operators and drivers make up 30 percent of the Australian workforce yet account for 55 percent of all claims for serious workplace injuries.

A survey of tradespeople which APA commissioned in 2019, meanwhile, suggests that attitudes and practices could be improved.

Amongst respondents in that survey:

  • Almost one third (32 percent) did not follow safe lifting guidelines
  • Less than one quarter (24 percent) stretched or warmed up before work
  • Almost half 48 percent had not taken a sick day in the previous six months
  • Around one third of would warm up if their boss prioritised this
  • 82 percent of those who have been injured have experienced joint, soft tissue or musculoskeletal injuries.

Moreover, that survey indicated concerning attitudes about personal health.

Whereas 88 percent said they take good care of their tools, only 61 percent said they take good care of their bodies while 69 percent said that being sore was ‘just normal’ for the work that they do.

APA said physios can provide advice, education and treatment on how to manage existing injuries as well as help tradies to look after their health in order to reduce injury risk by working smarter.

Simple tips like warming up for five to 10 minutes before starting work and pacing their workload to avoid overuse and fatigue are easy to incorporate into a daily routine, it said.

“At the end of the day we all want to go home safely to our families, so tradies should look at all options to make sure they are in the best physical and mental shape to get through the day,” Calvert said.

“Simple warm up stretches at the start of the day are easy, and even some open dialogue with bosses and co-workers about workplace practices, injuries or other issues affecting their work can lead to a safer and more productive workplace for everyone.”